The next two years will be fascinating from a transport point of view in Kildare.
On Wednesday, January 3, work began on the long awaited widening of the M7 from the Naas north junction on the N7 to the turn off to the M9.
It’s 14 kms of a third lane, two years of construction, speed restrictions, biblical traffic delays and a price tag of gazillions.
There are some who would say that this is all a waste of money.
But all of that is patently obvious to anyone who has to venture near it at rush hour, particularly in the evening time where the change from three to two lanes at the Maudlins causes a tailback that has, on occasion, reached as far back as Kill.
So the obvious thing, some would say, is to widen it, to add another lane.
Obvious yes, except that all available research shows that there is only one outcome to widening already over-capacity roads.
If the public perceives that a road has increased capacity a greater number of them will use it, with the result that the extra lane offers only temporary relief from the problem before it gets bad again.
However, studies have also shown that if the public believes there is less capacity on a road, they will steer clear of it.
They will find an alternative road or an alternative method of transport.
We regularly see pictures of enormous, six-lane roads, in the US and elsewhere with thousands of cars at a standstill. The biggest roads are more prone to traffic jams.
I was telling somebody the other day that I haven’t driven into Dublin city centre in some time. I usually park at the back of either Heuston Station or at the Red Cow and get a combination of the Luas and Dublin Bikes to my destination.
She felt I was being excessively self-righteous, an environmental goody-two-shoes.
Not in the least — it was a simply a reaction to the hassle of losing hours of my life sitting in the car on the Quays.
In any event, I enjoy using the alternatives. You’re never waiting around for any significant length of time for them.
The answer is not about building or widening roads, it’s about developing the capacity of the most efficient forms of transport while excluding the least efficient.
Cars are the least efficient forms of transport and bicycles are the most, while trains and buses are in the middle.
Humans can be moved out of their cars, but it requires authorities to be brave enough to make them too inconvenient and uncomfortable. The other side of that coin is that alternative modes of transport need to be excellent.
Commuters are like water, they will always go for the easiest way.
Arguably, one way to reduce congestion on the N7/M7 may be to reduce it to one lane with numerous traffic lights. The chaos and delays of the roadworks over the next two years may well tell us if that is indeed the case.
Bad and all as it is now, it’s going to get a hell of a lot worse. But that might well just be the thing that prompts people to finally get out of their cars.
On a side note: part of this project will include the Sallins bypass and a new interchange at Osberstown. This is to be welcomed because it will reduce the amount of through-traffic in the village and reduce the burden on the tiny canal road which is now closed due to a damaged bridge.